Airport gun bill launched in Florida Senate

Posted at 5:27 AM, Feb 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-17 05:34:10-05

A proposal that would allow people to bring guns into airport terminals, but not through federal security screening, has taken off in the Senate amid turbulence from aviation officials.

The measure (SB 1500), narrowly approved along party lines in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to continue carrying sidearms in the areas of airports that are before passengers go through the security-screening process.

It is unknown how far the measure will fly this legislative session, as it has two additional committee appearances scheduled in the Senate, and the House version (HB 4051) has not been heard in committees.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is sponsoring the proposal, said it is intended to let people maintain their personal safety while dropping off or picking up travelers.

"When you see that there are lots of terroristic threats around airports and security around airports, and it seems to me that when you have 100 million visitors come through the state of Florida at some level, this is one of those areas we need to address," Simpson said after the meeting.

But Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who joined Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson in opposing the bill, said the proposal could make it easier for people to access weapons in an airport.

Michael Stewart, director of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority who represented the Florida Airports Council, said law-enforcement agencies that patrol airports are also concerned about introducing more guns into potentially stress-filled situations.

"Obviously the good person there has been trained, but when someone else sees someone with a weapon … the introduction of a weapon could be a problem," Stewart said.

Under the proposal, people intending to travel with firearms would still have to pack the unloaded guns into baggage and declare the pieces when checking in.

The Transportation Security Administration prohibits people from possessing weapons when going through security screening to enter what is known as the sterile area of the airport. Violators may be fined up to $11,000 per violation.

Airport terminals, along with the sterile areas, are among listed limitations in state law about where people can carry concealed weapons. Other examples are police stations, jails, courthouses, courthouses, polling places, government meetings and schools.

The House has approved a bill (HB 163) that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry guns. Part of that bill also would allow state lawmakers to carry sidearms during legislative meetings.

A separate measure (HB 4031), which has not advanced in the House, would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring their handguns into meetings of the Legislature, city councils and school boards.

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